Cop in the Hood

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Setareh Salehi

Cop in the Hood

Peter Moskos‘, Cop in The Hood, is the story of a sociologist going native by going through the Baltimore police academy, becoming a cop and working for over a year. The book follows Moskos chronological journey, from the academy to the street and the last part of the book is dedicated to a pretty thorough analysis of the War on Drugs. The first interesting observation from Moskos’s work is his analysis of the police academy as relatively useless for the job: “So what’s the point of the academy? Primarily, it’s to protect the department from the legal liability that could result from negligent training. To the trainees this appears more important than educating police officers.” And second, despite the lax approach toward academics, instructors were very concerned with officer safety, the aspect of the job they emphasized most: “The most important part of your job is that you go home. Everything else is secondary.” This philosophy is reinforced at all levels of the police organization. Formal and informal rules concerning officer safety are propagated simultaneously. By the end of the academy, less than half the class saw a relation between what police learn in the academy and what police need to know on the street. A strong antimedia attitude, little changed from sociologist William Westley’s observations in the 1950s, grew steadily in the police academy. At the end of training, just 10 percent of trainees believed that the media treat police fairly.

After six months in the academy, trainees learn to:
* Respect the chain of command and their place on the bottom of that chain. * Sprinkle “sir” and “ma’am” into casual conversation. * Salute.
* Follow orders.
* March in formation.
* Stay out of trouble.
* Stay awake.
* Be on time.
* Shine shoes.”
But Moskos’s conclusion is that the training actually demoralizes trainees even before they start working on the streets. Physical training is not boot camp and provides a poor preparation (after all, most officers will spend their days in their patrol car), and academic training does not really impart knowledge and does not encourage thinking. Once training is over, the bulk of the book follows Moskos on the beat, on the Eastern side of Baltimore and the constant contradictory demands placed on officers (between following a very strict military-style chain of command and having to make quick decisions). In that sense, the book is also a good study of the necessity of developing informal rules in in highly formal, bureaucratic environments. Working around the rules is the only way to keep the work manageable and within the limits of efficiency and sanity. But for Moskos, the gap between formal and informal norms is especially wide in policing. They constantly have to innovate while on patrol because the rules do not work on the streets (of course, some officers do lapse into ritualism especially in a context where protecting one’s pension is the concern all officers have and that guides their behavior on the street). These informal rules are constantly at work whether it comes to stopping, frisking, searching, arresting, writing reports. In all of these aspects of the job, covering one’s butt and protecting one’s life and pension are paramount concerns. This means that officers actually have quite a bit of leeway and flexibility when it comes to their job. These informal norms are described in details in Moskos’s book and there is no underestimating their importance. Once on the streets, police officers mix a culture of poverty approach to “these people” (the communities they are expected to police, where gangs and drugs culture produce poverty with quite a bit of eliminationist rhetoric that reveals an in-group / out-group mentality between police officers and civilians: “A black officer proposed similar ends through different means. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I’d build big walls and just flood the...
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